I should be asleep. I am tired and another early morning shift at work tomorrow. Was going to write more on another blog post but the best laid plans of mice and men are put to one side by the endless entrances of events.
Edward Gough Whitlam has died – at the grand old age of 98. It’s so sad to think that a vital link to my days of youth has gone.
I remember him most of all with the ‘It’s Time’ campaign when he swept into power – glorious and triumphant – with such a wonderful vision for a new Australia shining in the bright blue skies above the eucalypts that Australia always has had.
An inclusive, enthusiastic, vital Australia – where education would be accessible to everyone, no-one need go broke being sick and where everyone could have a healthy, happy life free of hardship and equal opportunity.
And I love the way Whitlam and his old foe Malcolm Fraser became friends and allies in a lot of important causes after the tumult and grief of The Dismissal had died away over the decades.
I remember the power of his mild eyes and steady gaze – this was a statesman for peace and the common good and in this way, far mightier than those disgraceful, tin-foil hatted, saber-rattling little men who formed The Coalition of the Willing in the early days of the new millennium.
In my own life I think the advantages his government gave me was free education – even though I abandoned my university degree in 1981 due to a serious mental illness. But I did manage to complete enough to make getting back to it easier 15 years later when I had a job and a young daughter and husband. Also, the medical care and welfare I received during my illness was enough to stop me from getting into desperate circumstances – and then again my low cost education and training opportunities helped get me into a normal, productive, financially independent working life.
Despite the difficulties that I faced, Australia – thanks to Gough Whitlam – was a first-world country with enough second chances and opportunities to stop me from falling through the cracks. So I survived and prospered in a way that does not need great wealth.
Only a few politicians have The Vision Thing – and Whitlam had a depth and breadth of vision for this country that we had never seen before and have not seen much of since, except in some ways from Paul Keating.
Whitlam did not make it to 100, but then probably did not want to go on much longer without his wife. I remember him looking like a mighty figure bowed with immense dry-eyed woe, but still magnificent in his utter despair. I guess he can rest in peace now with his beloved Margaret.
A new generation of students – my daughter included – revere him and are astounded at his legacy when they study it. So Edward Gough Whitlam will live on – some parts of my youth will never die.